Consolidating Data Benefits Church and Its Members

By Jon Beyer

For many nonprofit organizations, events are a major part of community awareness and donor cultivation strategies. That’s the case for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), where one of its largest events, the Churchwide Assembly, attracts more than 2,000 registrants—nearly 1,000 of them voting members.

Event registration continues to be a major part of our engagement strategy with our constituents. For more than 10 years, we used a custom event registration system. The challenge was how to track, analyze and correlate the other interactions that event attendees had with the ELCA. For example, if a donation had been collected at an event, we could not easily track the donor and gift back to a specific event.

This significantly reduced our ability to communicate with supporters about volunteering, fundraising, advocacy or assuming potential leadership roles. Although we had systems that provided insight into the various ways we engaged with our constituents (and how they engaged with us), none of the systems interconnected to give us a full view. That lack was an ongoing problem and meant missed opportunities.

A project team was asked to replace the functionality of the previous customized event registration system, while also standardizing event registrations to drive efficiencies across the entire organization, including the IT department. Leadership mandated that the new system perform “exactly as it did in the past.” The requirements were to make the experience simple, efficient and comprehensive.

We were already using Blackbaud’s CRM (BBCRM) product to manage donors. The system gives us tremendous insight into our donor community, but we were not integrated with systems across the organization—such as event registration—so it was impossible to reconcile data between systems, resulting in inaccurate and outdated information.

After much deliberation and research, we decided to add Blackbaud’s Internet Solutions Service and Event module for online registration to broaden the capabilities of the technology we were using. BBIS gives us the ability to add key functionality to our event registration process, including real-time access to constituent information, identifying where and how constituents potentially have relationships across the entire organization, and creating real-time credential reports (which run in 10 seconds or less).

Additionally, BBIS and the Event module were fully integrated with BBCRM, so we could consolidate all our constituent information in one central database. That was a major step forward for our organization.

However, there was still a question of whether the BBCRM/BBIS solution would be flexible enough to accommodate registration for the Churchwide Assembly. We tested the solution at six smaller events that had between15 and 80 attendees before moving on to the big leagues.

To make it work, our Web developers and business analysts gathered the data requirements and registration specifications. They then used some out-of-the-box features of the BBCRM/BBIS Event technology, as well as the Software Development Kit (SDK) to develop custom registration parts. The result is exactly what we had hoped.

Our investment in broader technology to centralize our data has paid huge dividends. In record time, 97 percent of voting members had registered for the Churchwide Assembly. The ability to automatically create and deliver emails to communicate with registered attendees reduced staff time by 90 percent, compared to the former system of manually exporting names from a database into an email. Multiple staff members had easy access to registration data instead of relying on a single staff member to provide updates.

Overall, the current system houses more than one million constituent records and more than 1.9 million revenue records.

In addition to the business benefits, the initiative is also closely aligned with the Churchwide Assembly’s mandate to switch from paper to electronic voting for church-wide votes. The registration system built into the BBCRM/BBIS managed the check-in/check-out process of 700 rental iPads for voting member purposes—all tied together seamlessly. The switch saved us more than 700,000 sheets of paper.

Jon Beyer is CIO at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Beyer has worked in information security at Andersen Consulting, as infrastructure vice president at Transora (now 1SYNC), and in IT operations and customer service at Incisent Technologies.